the Crucible

Emerging Church

The Emerging Church
      The voice of the emerging church is largely one calling out to itself; it has moved radically outside of mainstream culture. Some within the Church who are listening have heard the cry of reformation, but largely that sphere of worldly influence has dwindled through the disintegration of Christendom. That voice has had small exposure and difficulty finding a unifying front; this is largely due to the fact that its ideological agenda has not been based in praxis. This agenda has been established in the creation of networks, such as TheOOZE, Soularize, Emergent, Off the Map, Not-Alone, and Kingdom Living, and articulated in the works of authors such as Lesslie Newbigin, Darrell Guder, Richard Foster, Stanley Grenz, Dallas Willard, Leonard Sweet, George Hunsberger, Stanley Hauerwas, Greg Boyd, and others. All of this intellectual prodding has done much to further the cry of change. The impact of these individuals and organizations has been large and time will prove their influence. The battles they have been waging are necessary and have begun a revolution of change that is slowly stirring the hearts of leaders within the Church. This can be visibly evidenced through one or more recent seminary programs62 that set out to study what it means to be a leader in an emerging world.63

      Recently much time and dialogue has been devoted to inwardly focusing on the Church’s reformation. In cloning the times, thrusts such as Generation X64 churches and alternative services spent a great part of the 1990s rearranging the furniture and lighting candles. This was an honest attempt at keeping up with trends like MTV’s “Unplugged;” however, this was only being culturally reactive.65 In speaking of efforts made by those who had hoped to see a reformation, one scholar commented that “the Church will never be reformed.”66 In one sense, this is true because the Church is made up of sinners, who will never embody perfection or represent the Church in its fullness.

      The fascination with reforming the church has been a reactive posture rather than preventive maintenance; understanding culture is certainly a helpful tool, but those living within that culture need no predictors or hypotheses as to where the church will be in the next ten years. They do need teaching consistent with their interpretational grids of comprehension and metaphors to which they can relate. Understanding genetically bio-engineered humanoids or metrosexuals and even the online church can be fascinating; however, this is neither a Kingdom agenda nor one that produces practitioners. Rather, it just continues in the vein of theorists and the “translayering” of cultural relevancy.  Technology and emergence are not relevant to the single mom, with two kids. Neither is slipping a tract of the four spiritual laws under her door. We need to raise practitioner leaders in the emerging church—leaders who are both experiencing the personal transformation of being Christian and who are outwardly practicing the experience of spiritual transformation. We need to DO Christianity.

      The Church would look different if we focused on being more proactive in leading and teaching people to be truly human.67 Providing individuals with the four spiritual laws is no longer effective; evangelistic stadium crusades are a dying breed. In the future even the seeker church model will suffer, because it, too, is based in a modernist model of church largely based in an apologetic. As America closes its historical run under the mantle of Christendom, we will be forced into new delivery systems that are accessible and relevant.68

      Unless the emergent church begins to become more outwardly focused in its demonstrations, it will become nothing more than a collection of talk shops for intellectual growth. Perhaps most perplexing is the emergent movement’s recent discovery of and fascination with the traditions of Celtism.69 This is interesting because of what is becoming the emerging church’s staple—introspection and the spiritual reformation of the individual. The inward journey of the Celts has terrific ramifications for the individual; however, what seems to go unrecognized is that the Celts were equally committed to mission.70 They sought to go out and preach the gospel, fulfilling the mandates of a Kingdom agenda seemingly in direct defiance of cultural norms.71 An integral part of Celticism is their integration of metaphor and symbol; from their daily rituals72 to their artistic design, they are able to give allegory and metaphor for commonplace activity.

      As the emergent voice has struggled to find its identity by encouraging both individual leadership and corporate voice, it has passionately neutered the very individuals who have the autonomy to lead it. Perhaps in some cases they have drained the tub and made the assumption that all that is left is are babies. It is really important to recognize that the playing field is not level, just because the rules of church are changing. In the displacement of church models many “CEO” type leaders of the past are struggling to find their places within the context of local community,73 and as a result leaders are often forced into a somewhat passive role. This is perhaps a backlash to CEO style of leadership that has become prevalent in the American church; however, the danger in this line of thinking is that it results in churches with only a passive voice and leaders who have been neutered and who have lost their prophetic voice.74 We need to re-teach leaders how to both step back and forward: to step back from a model that demonstrates a division between clergy and laity, and yet step forward in demonstrating their natural and spiritual qualities that makes them unique in the body of Christ.

      The emergent church is overly concerned with culture and dangerously resembles the liberal, pre-Wesleyan Anglican Church, whose leaders were early vigilantes of intellectual thought constructs. The “liberal church” has become idle in the effort to be anti-culture; no longer are they defiant, no longer are they visible in terms of being cultural iconoclasts. The emerging church could follow this vein. On the contrary, the early church was radically defiant of their culture; its practices, liturgy, and voice were culturally heretical. The Sunday Sabbath was a statement of defiance, not complacency; it was not an embrace of the Starbuck culture75 of the day but rather a statement of opposition to it.76 Its voice, its kingdom message, and its mission were, in the face of both Roman and Hebraic thought, arguing for a call of allegiance to a new king and emperor.  This Roman heritage has remained entrenched in the emerging church’s paradigm. Its slavish reformation attempts and introspection remains a stigma of critique. The church must regain a prophetic voice, a voice that will be in defiance. Sadly, it is difficult to be an orator for a Kingdom message if that message is lost in the rearranging of intellectual furniture.


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